CNS Research Fellows Travel to Belgium


Many students at St. Norbert College returned to their classes and extracurricular activities this semester after a well-deserved break. Two came back a few days after the end of a research trip covering three weeks and two continents.

Two research fellows at the Center for Norbertine Studies of St. Norbert College journeyed to Belgium over the winter break as part of a research trip investigating Norbertine missionary activity. Luke Manderle ’18 and Alex Gruber ’18, traveled with Father Andrew Ciferni, Director of the Center for Norbertine Studies, to Grimbergen Abbey, staying there from Jan. 3 to 17 to conduct their research.

Grimbergen Abbey, located in Grimbergen, a community approximately 10 miles from Brussels, Belgium’s capital, has housed Norbertine canons since its foundation as one of the first Norbertine abbeys in 1128.

While at the abbey, the three participated in the daily routine of the canons while digitizing documents relating to the community’s mission in Canada in the first half of the twentieth century.

As stated on its webpage, the Center for Norbertine Studies works to explore, “in collaboration with Norbertines throughout the world,” how the unique heritage of the Norbertine order “can inform and help shape spiritual, intellectual, and cultural life” at St. Norbert College.

The Center’s current project to carry out this mission involves the review, digitization and organization of all materials relating to Norbertine missionary activity from 1870 to the Second Vatican Council, held between 1962 and 1965. With the help of a grant from the St. Norbert College Collaborative, the group was able to travel to Belgium and conduct their research.

The research trip to Belgium formed the first step in this vast undertaking and focused on a mission Grimbergen Abbey maintained in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, from approximately 1901 to 1945. Letters, postcards, photographs and blueprints relating to the mission were collected by the abbey’s members and given to the group. These materials were then briefly reviewed, with their date, sender, addressee and several other traits cataloged for later use. Photos were then taken of the items with an iPad on an elevated stand and stored on an external hard drive.

Overall, the research group reviewed approximately 620 separate items and captured over 2,000 images.

While working at Grimbergen Abbey, Fr. Ciferni, Gruber and Manderle also had the chance to visit three other Norbertine abbeys in Belgium: Averbode, Park and Tongerlo. The group received tours of each complex and experienced their unique architectural styles and histories.

The research fellows still had a full experience of the Norbertine, Flemish and Belgian cultures during their work, living in guest rooms at the abbey, dining and conversing with the canons and even attending the parish’s annual New Year’s reception.

Now that they have returned, Fr. Ciferni and the research fellows will focus on investigating the information of the various letters and postcards to determine why Grimbergen Abbey’s mission in Canada failed. They will also work to organize the photos taken during the trip into an easily navigable system with the goal of making the materials viewed during the research trip available to the public via an online archive.


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